Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Answer of the Tongue
Holy Prophet King Solomon, traditional author of Proverbs

"To man are the preparations of the heart:
from the Lord is the answer of the tongue."
--Prv 16:1

The Lord holds sway over all: with Him is all power, and for this we call Him Pantokrator, All-Mighty.  Heaven and earth and all their inhabitants are under His command, for "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein," and "He stretches forth the heavens like a tent," a tent which He can set up and take down at will.  If He wills, He could wipe out man from the face of the earth, as in the time of Noah, yet instead He wills that we work out our salvation in fear and trembling in this world.  Though He does not use His power in its most sweeping way, He still has all power over all created things, down to the smallest speck, and He watches over all and cares for all, as He even numbers each hair on our heads.  Thus He has rule even over the answers of our tongues.

All of our plans are merely conditional before the Lord, for He laughs at the plans of men.  In the words of Robert Burns, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley," or more commonly cited as, "The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry."  Sometimes this awryness is from the workings of the world, and sometimes from the working of the Lord.  He touches our lives when He wills, even in great ways, such as giving victory to an army or stilling a storm.  So too in this proverb could we see the power of the Lord over all of our lives, how He can change the course of events despite our most strenuous preparations, and yet it can be viewed in another light as well.

Remember the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: "When they bring you forth before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious over how or what you will respond, or what you will say: for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that hour, what it is necessary to say."  We do not have to trust solely in ourselves when we preach before men, for if so the burden would be too great.  Instead, we need only prepare our hearts and be ready to give an explanation for our hope, and the Lord, the Spirit, in that hour will give us the answer of the tongue.  The Spirit will be "playing on your tongue, and singing His melodies in your mouth" (Sahdona of Halmon).

This is one of the greatest challenges I have, for I fear to preach before men.  I trust in my words, my own preparations, to such an extent that I do not lay my cares upon the Lord: I do not remember His promise, or, if I remember, I do not believe and hope in it.  Thus this call is addressed first to me, and then to you as well: prepare your hearts, yet trust in the Lord to give you the answer, trust in the Lord to give you the words.  He has the power over our plans and over our words, and if we open to His will, He will direct us in the ways He has chosen for us, as He directed the apostles, to go and preach in Antioch and to forbid them to speak the word in Asia.  As He gave them His words, so He will give them to us as well, if we trust in Him.  Let us all then, myself first of all, prepare our hearts, but trust in the Lord to give us the answer of the tongue.  And when we speak what the Lord has given, let us follow the instruction of St. Ambrose: "What the tongue confesses let the heart hold fast."

Nota Bene: The quote from Robert Burns is from his "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough," as found on its Wikipedia page.  The quote from Sahdona (also called Martyrius) is from his Book of Perfection, II.8.79, quoted in The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, translated by Sebastian Brock, number 101 in the Cistercian Studies series (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1987).  The quote from St. Ambrose is from his De Sacramentis (On the Sacraments), IV.V.25, as found in On the Sacraments and On the Mysteries, translated by T. Thompson and edited by J.H. Srawley (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1950).

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